Lisa pulled the tap on the coffee maker, filling up the largest cup they had. The smell of nearly fresh coffee mixed with gasoline and whatever was in those breakfast tacos behind the counter flooded her senses. Folks were streaming in and out like ants, grabbing a drink and a quick bite before heading out to work, slamming just enough cash on the counter as they left. This was their daily routine, the guy behind the counter nodded as they did so, recognizing each one of them. She put the lid on her coffee and made her way to the front.
The guy waved her items across the barcode scanner, playing that Sonic the Hedgehog ring noise as they passed. “Will that be all?”
“A pack of Luckies, please.”
He fetched the little white box from behind the counter, “That will be $18.50.”
She thanked him, handing over a fresh-from-the-ATM twenty dollar bill. Before he could give her change she was out the door, quickly tapping the key fob to unlock the car. The red hatchback was loaded with everything she would need for the trip: A suitcase of clothes, a few boxes of books, cooler of food, laptop and chargers, ammo and shotgun. Lisa carried the pistol on herself, which meant removing it from the holster before getting in the car. Glock secured in the center console, coffee and donuts in the cup holders, she pushed in the clutch and pushed the ignition.
Two weeks. That’s how long she would be gone. The cabins were only a five and a half hour drive away, the code to the door already set up in her phone. She took this trip every year, using all of her vacation days in the process. No distractions, no TV, nothing but work. Her phone would hardly get signal and the closest restaurant was in a town a half hour out, but those two weeks were always her most productive.
She stopped halfway for lunch and to stretch her legs. Driving wasn’t stressful when no one else was in the car. Her mind was free to think, to plot out the story for the next book, working out all the details while passing eighteen wheelers and dodging the highway patrol.
A few hours later the view from her car windows changed from the void of fast food restaurants and gas stations along the interstate to the towering green pines which would be her view from every window for the next few days. The road took her around a large lake, hills, and the entrance to the camp property. She checked in with the ranger station where the guard handed her a paper map with her cabin circled in red pencil.
She knew exactly where it was, always booking the same cabin each year. It was the furthest from the lake, from the multi-family cabins, from the party pavilion. Thankfully, there weren’t too many loud people hanging around the lake in the winter.
Lisa could make out a figure leaning against the wooden railing of the porch as she rolled up the driveway. Recognizing who it was immediately, those boots, the jeans, that green jacket, she got out of the car and walked up the steps. He stood with a small cup of coffee in one hand, waving a smile. She invented that smile.
“Sorry Jim, you’re staying dead.”
“Oh come on, they loved me.”
“I don’t write soap operas, I can’t just fake your death because the readers want more of you.” She said, tapping her phone to the door lock. “Is everyone else here?”
“Yeah, they should be.”
As he followed her into the living room, various other characters began to appear. The detectives on the couch, murderer in the kitchen, one of the street children running across the wooden planked floor. More appeared as they came back to her memory. “Alright everyone,” she said, pulling a cigarette from the pack with her teeth, “let’s get started.”